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How Mandatory GMO Labeling Became Law in Vermont

May 9, 2014
Today, May 8, 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin officially signed into law GMO labeling bill H. 112. This legislation requires certain products sold in the Vermont to be labeled if they are “partially produced with genetic engineering.” Enacted without any triggers, the law will automatically go into effect July 2016, making Vermont the first state to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

At the signing, a female speaker told the crowd that over 80,000 acres of GMO corn is planted in Vermont and we should not rest until we stop this. Both the Senate and House agriculture committees vehemently stated that this had nothing to do with farmers. Why would they give this woman the microphone and make it clear that they always knew this was just step one?

Despite the threat of a lawsuit hanging over their heads from food manufacturers, key lawmakers went from skeptical to sold on a labeling law within months because a well-organized, well-funded and seasoned group of supporters launched one of the biggest grassroots efforts the state has seen reports the Burlington Free Press.

How'd they do it? A combination of factors came together to take the labeling bill to the finish line, said Dave Rogers, policy director at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, who was among those working for the bill. Luck helped, he said, but so did an unrelenting group effort, extensive use of social media that has changed the speed with which causes spread, and Vermont's two decades of experience in resisting the use of genetic engineering in agriculture.

All the members of the Vermont Right to Know Coalition had experience on the issue. Each had extensive and varied membership lists that provided names of potential supporters across Vermont. They had money, too, thanks in part to national organizations that saw Vermont as a foothold for the GMO-labeling movement across the country.

The coalition took in $750,000 to $1 million, about half from in-state and half from outside supporters, which included Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, the Organic Consumers' Fund and Mercola Corp.

Speaking to the reputation of these donors. Joseph Mercola opposes childhood immunization, fluoridation, mammography, and the routine administration of vitamin K shots to the newborn. He has become so destructive that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has actually formally ordered Mercola to cease making unsubstantiated claims - See “9 Reasons to Completely Ignore Joseph Mercola” on the Science-Based Medicine website. And yet, he was a major beneficiary in this movement to get a GMO labeling law in Vermont.

Meanwhile, another member of the coalition, VPIRG, launched the organization's biggest summer campaign ever last year, sending teams of young activists to knock on doors in every Vermont town and to sign people up as supporters of GMO labeling, Executive Director Paul Burns said. He estimated VPIRG spent $500,000 this year and last year on GMO-labeling efforts.

Margaret Laggis, executive director of United Dairy Farmers of Vermont and a Montpelier lobbyist for BIO, whose members include seed manufacturer Monsanto, said many people were swayed by misleading messages about GMOs. Laggis said she came across the VPIRG door-knockers last summer and found

"Once you scare people about their food, it's such a personally intimidating thing for people. It's really unfortunate that people have been scared when there's no science to support it," Laggis said.

In a recent statement issued by BIO, Cathy Enright, vice president for Food and Agriculture, commented
"The biotech industry is committed to providing information about how our food is grown and fully supports the voluntary labeling of products to meet specific demands of consumers in the marketplace.

"Unfortunately, when labels are mandated to promote one product over another, as this one in Vermont, the additional cost burden is placed on the state's farmers, food manufacturers, grocers and consumers. Economic studies have shown that such a program could needlessly increase food costs on the average household by as much as $400 per year."

Read BIO’s press release on the enactment of the Vermont GMO labeling law here.